Is multi-skilling the need of the times?
In an effort to avoid retrenchment, reduce hiring and increase
efficiency, organizations are seeking a multi-skilled workforce, writes Sudipta
an era of specialization, the downturn has interestingly brought into focus
the necessity of having a multi-skilled workforce. Multi-skilling is currently
the big buzzword. The common belief is that a multi-skilled workforce can avoid
retrenchment and can lead to increased productivity for the organization in
a time of increased severity, which can directly impact the companys bottom
Some would argue of course that there was always a need to
be multi-skilled, but the current economic turmoil has brought the necessity
to the forefront. Possession of an additional skill goes a long way in opening
new channels and opportunities for professionals, particularly at a time when
their particular skill might not be needed by the organization for its business.
is not so-much about a particular level or category of employees. It is
about a mind-set. It is about skill sets and you would agree therefore
that it is fairly level-agnostic"
- Arun Rao
VP, Global HR, AppLabs
the perspective of the employee, multi-tasking would allow them to become
diversified and maintain high levels of motivation and enthusiasm"
- Dr. Cabot Jaffee
Chairman, Global Talent Metrics
multi-skilled capabilities of the middle rung of people allows
organizations to loop in talent
for new business initiatives / ventures"
- Surabhi Mathur Gandhi
General Manager, Permanent Staffing, Teamlease Services
Dr. Cabot Jaffee, Chairman, Global Talent Metrics and an HR
thought leader, believes that it is a healthy trend from the perspective of
the company as well as the employee, since it allows the company to bring about
cost-cutting in various forms and more importantly, an individual does not become
indispensable for the company, or rather a company need not depend on a particular
person for doing a specialized job in which he is an expert. Such a workforce
would be self-managed and flexible according to the requirements of the company.
From the perspective of the employee, multi-tasking would allow them to become
diversified and maintain high levels of motivation and enthusiasm. It would
also allow the employees to get involved in the various aspects of the functioning,
work, etc., of their company, allowing them to be more involved in the performance
of their firm and contributing in preventing lay-offs as well, added Jaffe.
There are many who believe that multi-skilled employees are
a great asset to an organization, irrespective of industry conditions. In
leaner times, a multi-skilled workforce helps bring in operational efficiency
and increased productivity, since a smaller workforce is required to cater to
the scaled down demand. But even when economic conditions are on the upswing,
a multi-skilled workforce helps in addressing customer demand faster and better,
stated Rani Desai, Vice President & Global Head-Human Resources and Organization
Lekha Sishta, VPHR & Talent Management, SumTotal
Systems, elucidated the example of an employee who is a top performer, but only
within his domain and expertise. His contribution to a companys performance
would be limited to how that domain, technology, etc., was doing in the market.
If this employee, however, had multiple skills, was knowledgeable about different
verticals and technology stacks, he would be far more effective in the market,
because market disturbances can affect verticals, but it is unlikely that all
verticals behave in the same manner in a downturn environment. So if an
employee enhances his skill sets, albeit in a phased manner, he will be far
more valuable to his company and the company will be a more potent force in
the market. Not only is this relevant in a recession, but also in a booming
economy where companies compete to attract and retain the best business,
Who needs to get multi-skilled
It is important to understand who needs to get multi-skilled. Do they need to
be at a particular level or position, or doing a specific work? Interestingly,
most experts do believe that being multi-skilled is level-agnostic. People trained
in technical skills however need to have mastery over more than one platform
necessitated on account of the high level of obsolescence in the field.
The non-technical staff can be trained in support functions
to save an organization considerable cost. Desai agreed that training should
preferably be in related/adjacent fields, so that the existing skills of the
employees are appropriately leveraged. Moreover, as these employees move
into managerial or lead positions, knowledge of related fields aids them while
interacting and collaborating with their various stakeholders, she added.
Multi-skilling is not so-much about a particular level
or category of employees. It is about a mind-set. It is about skill sets and
you would agree therefore that it is fairly level-agnostic, stated Arun
Rao, VP, Global HR, AppLabs.
- Reduction in job insecurity
- Greater individual productivity
- Better growth prospects
- Holistic perspective regarding the organizations
- Can achieve his personal goals quicker
Surabhi Mathur Gandhi, General Manager, Permanent Staffing,
Teamlease Services felt that multi-skilling is of particular significance for
key teams/leadership in an organization usually span the middle/mid senior levels
with employees who are responsible for driving operations on the ground. Building
multi-skilled capabilities of the middle rung of people allows organizations
to loop in talent for new business initiatives/ventures, stated Mathur.
- Optimal utilization of workforce
- Easy deployment of employees across projects
- Increased productivity and better quality
- Creation of a flexible workforce which
is well aware of the organizations needs
- Fillip to employee engagement
Scope of training
an employee enhances his skill sets, albeit in a phased manner, he will
be far more valuable to his company and the company will be a more potent
force in the market"
- Lekha Sishta
VPHR & Talent Management,
todays day and age it is important that employees at each level/functions
have multiple skills so as not to become redundant or stagnant"
- Ashish Arora
Managing Director, HR Anexi
trainings will help the employees to take the opportunity of expanding
their skills and be prepared to widen their scope of work"
- Papiya Mitra
Director, Human Resources, India, Japan & APAC, Magma Design Automation
leaner times, a multi-skilled workforce helps bring in operational efficiency
and increased productivity, since a smaller workforce is required to cater
to the scaled down demand"
- Rani Desai
Vice President & Global Head-Human Resources and Organization Development,
To be multi-skilled, an employee needs to be trained in functions/possess
skills that are different from his own core skill. This training could be cross-functional
or in related fields as per the requirements of the organizations business
demands and a persons own career aspirations. It is important that the
employee should be keen on getting trained and not just do it as a stop gap
Papiya Mitra, Director, HR, India, Japan & APAC, Magma Design Auto-mation,
felt that the training should be a mix of both because the organization requires
specific skill sets as well. Cross-functional trainings will help the
employees to take the opportunity of expanding their skills and be prepared
to widen their scope of work, she added.
Ashish Arora, Managing Director, HR Anexi acknowledged that though it is the
world of specialization and super specialization, but in todays day and
age it is important that employees at each level/function to have multiple skills
so as not to become redundant or stagnant.
Areas of caution
Getting employees multi-skilled is not without its own set
of challenges. It is important to retain the core competency of the employee
while he is being trained for the additional skill, which might lead to adverse
impact like loss of interest and demotivation. A good employee can in fact end
up being a liability if he is not properly directed in these efforts.
Arora warned that forced multi-skilling by companies
might lead to the employee losing interest in job and finally walking out. This
apart, employees work-life balance may be negatively impacted due to time
Multi-skilling needs to be nurtured and sold to employees.
It should not be thrust randomly. Also, it is important to factor in the aptitude
and appetite of the workforce. It should be seen as a continuing commitment
from the organization and get reflected in the career path programs, asserted
Mathur also cautioned that organizations should carefully evaluate the capability/capacity
of such talent before exposing them to multi-faceted roles. Pure concentration
on ROI may backfire if the existing employee is given an arena outside of his/her
capability or scope of growth.
Retaining employees/avoiding retrenchment
The most obvious advantages of multi-skilling areretention
of employees and avoiding of retrenchment. But does it actually happen? To a
large extent it does.
Unless decisions are taken that cut away ownership/responsibilities
of individuals, such changes are often viewed as positive changes by employees.
Of course, tagged to additional responsibilities come the expectation of added
benefits; whether in the form of added remuneration or additional perks. On
stabilization of business/markets, it also becomes imperative for organizations
to reward such individuals for the value addition, stated Mathur.
Research has proved that employees who are motivated to perform
multi-tasking or given a choice for job rotation, are more efficient and motivated
compared to those who are not provided such a chance. Through one of the
surveys conducted by Global Talent Metrics in collaboration with IIM-B, we found
that salary was not the primary reason for the employee to change or quit from
jobs, but mismatch in employee and employer expectations. By employing tactics,
such as multi-tasking and job rotation, an employee would be more connected
and involved with the company and would prefer to stay in the same. Hence, multi-tasking
combined with other techniques such as job rotation, encouragement and a good
working ambience would definitely help in employee retention, remarked
Linking the organizations goals to an employees training becomes
key to retaining the employee. Once the employee is trained and has the required
(multiple) skills, he will also have the opportunity to use those skills. His
performance appraisal will reflect his using those new skills and performing
well, so his compensation will also get affected positively. By making sure
that youre covering all areas of an employee life cycle like alignment,
training, performance, succession planning and compensation, youre providing
him a fantastic workplace and providing him enough reasons for him to spend
a long innings at your company, said Sishta.
There are many other factors that drive business in uncertain times, but the
fact that multi-skilled employees are adaptable and can be redeployed makes
them the ideal manpower for any organization.